The European Social Policy Network (ESPN) has just published a major new report, Minimum Income Schemes in Europe: a Study of National Policies. This synthesises the findings of 35 country reports. The report finds that minimum income (MI) schemes play a vital role in alleviating the worst impacts of poverty and social exclusion in many countries. However, in too many countries MI schemes still fall short of ensuring a decent life for the most vulnerable in society. Progress in improving them in recent years has been disappointing.
The most common weaknesses identified include inadequate levels of benefit, failure to cover all those in need, low levels of take-up and a limited impact in reducing poverty. Despite some improvements, in many countries there is still not sufficient emphasis on developing an integrated and tailored approach to support those receiving benefits and to help them to integrate into society and, as far as possible, into the labour market.
The report argues that ensuring the adequacy and effectiveness of MI schemes are fundamental building blocks if the objective of the current Commission to ensure a “triple-A” social rating for Europe is to be achieved.
The 35 country reports prepared by ESPN’s independent experts highlight and assess the contribution of minimum income schemes to both preventing and alleviating poverty and social exclusion, and fostering an active inclusion approach to promoting social investment.
Recommendations included in the synthesis report
Ensuring high quality universal social protection systems, and, as part of them, effective and adequate MI schemes is key to ensuring that the fundamental human right to live in dignity and participate fully in society can be made real. In order to strengthen MI schemes across Europe and achieve a truly Social Europe, the authors recommend:
- To put universal social protection and an adequate income for all at the centre of EU policy making. This can be achieved by:
- The European Commission and Member States agreeing on a set of common principles, definitions and methods for an adequate MI to be achieved in all Member States and giving consideration to an EU legislative initiative in this field;
- ensuring that improving MI schemes is a key priority in implementing the Europe 2020 Strategy and in all aspects of the European semester.
- To provide a transparent and effective mechanism for uprating the value of MI schemes to ensure that they keep in line with inflation and rises in standards of living.
- To increase coverage of MI schemes of people in need of support.
- To introduce monitoring and effective strategies to reduce non-take-up where such arrangements are currently missing.
- To further research and promote effective ways of ensuring that:
- MI schemes are efficient in removing work disincentives and that those in work have incomes that lift them out of poverty;
- the adequacy of MI schemes is guaranteed.
- To promote a comprehensive “active inclusion” approach, based on three integrated pillars: adequate income support, inclusive labour markets and access to quality services.
- To enhance exchange of learning and good practice on MI schemes.